Pick your poison

Published 7:21 pm Wednesday, November 2, 2011

This weekend, the East Carolina defense will face a tough task as it must slow down a USM offense that is ranked 18th in the nation in rushing yards per game and 38th in passing yards per game. (AP Photo)

Pick your poison. That’s what the East Carolina defense is going to have to do when it faces a Southern Miss team on Saturday that has crushed teams with a dynamic air attack and a versatile ground game. The Pirates (4-4, 3-1) and the No. 24 ranked Golden Eagles (7-1, 3-1) will lock horns this weekend for sole possession of first place in the Conference USA East Division and if ECU wants to walk away winner it close down at least one phase of USM’s offense. Led by senior quarterback Austin Davis, the Eagles average 254 passing yards per game, which is the 38th highest total in the country. That total is nice, but their run game has been better. Southern Miss has four backs with over 200 rushing yards on the season, and two backs in Kendrick Hardy and Jamal Woodyard that have emassed over 400 yards. Davis, the QB, is also a big factor in coach Larry Fedora’s ground attack as he has totaled 194 rushing yards and two TDs this season. To put that in perspective, East Carolina has only two backs over the 200-yard mark right now and only one who has gained over 400 yards in Reggie Bullock, who will not play expected to play Saturday due to a thigh injury. A team that can run and throw is a defense’s worst nightmare, which is why the Pirates must stop at least one aspect of the Golden Eagles offense on Saturday. “The first thing you want to do is make them one dimensional,” East Carolina defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell said. “You want to take something away and that’s what our scheme is predicated on.” In their new 3-4 scheme the East Carolina defense has grown leaps and bounds from the unit that was the worst in the FBS last season. The Pirates have done a tremendous job in pass defense, where they have allowed a mere 192 yards per game to rank 20th in the country. Against the run, ECU has not been as stout as it has given up and FBS 88th-best 186.6 yards per contest. That run defense must rise to the occasion Saturday as it appears the Pirates’ top priority is shutting down the USM runners. “First and foremost you have to stop the run,” East Carolina cornerback Emanuel Davis said. “Everything starts up front, we have been preaching that since the beginning of the season. We have to control the line of scrimmage and make them one dimensional.” The Pirates will catch somewhat of a break this weekend as USM’s leading rusher Kendrick Hardy (5.9 ypc, 426 yards) is out with an injury, but the team has had several backs chip in to fill the void. Freshman Jamal Woodyard, who at 5-8, 202 pounds has earned the nickname “Fatback” has feasted on opposing defenses and has racked up 418 yards and three touchdowns thanks to his 6.9 yards per carry average. Sophomore Jeremy Hester is third on the team in rushing and his 5.1 yards per attempt has led to him gaining 275 yards and two scores. Then there is the dynamic Tracey Lampley. The 5-9, 168-pound junior was slated to play slot receiver this year but injuries have forced him back into the backfield. “Their backs are real good,” Davis said. “No. 1 (Lampley) as well as No. 26 (Woodyard) can both take it the distance. If you give them a seem they can make you pay, so we have to be gap sound up front.” Lampley is the Eagles’ version of Reggie Bush and has compiled 272 rushing yards and three scores, while he is also the team’s third-leading receiver with 25 receptions for 299 yards. “They like to create mismatches, that’s what you look at first and foremost,” Mitchell said. “You look at how are they using the kid, are they trying to line him on a linebacker where his athleticism will play out more so than not. They put him out in space with the screen game and they put him out in space with back flares and things of that nature to do what he does best, and that’s making people miss in space.” Helping all those backs gain yards is a beefy offensive line that averages 309.6 pounds per person. From left to right, senior Lamar Holmes (6-6, 333), junior Joe Duhon (6-2, 292), junior Austin Quattrochi (6-3, 292), junior Darius Barnes (6-4, 329) and senior Jason Weaver (6-5, 302) have all been vital in allowing USM to be successful with both the pass and run. The last time the Pirates played a team that featured such a versatile attack was in their fifth game of the year when they faced C-USA frontrunner Houston, who beat them 56-3. East Carolina nose guard Michael Brooks said that, that game taught him and his fellow defenders the value of not letting opposing teams be able to both run and throw against them. “It’s very important for us to stop the run, we need to get these guys to be one dimensional,” Brooks said. “Houston was a real good showing of what can happen if you don’t stop one. We learned from our mistakes and we’re going to try to make them one dimensional and take the run away from them.”